Dibble puts his final mark on city with a giant bronze huia

00:00, Sep 24 2011

Internationally renowned sculptor Paul Dibble has just given Palmerston North a $90,000 parting present.

His bronze and Corten steel sculpture Ghost of the Huia, owned by Zimmerman Contemporary Art Gallery director Bronwyn Zimmerman, was installed yesterday in The Square near Square Edge for everyone to enjoy.

"We're doing this in the best spirit of placemaking," said Ms Zimmerman, referring to a Palmerston North City Council urban spaces planning initiative, under which the community leads projects to beautify public spaces in the way that people want, rather than having designs imposed on the area.

"We hope it will set a tone for this project," she said.

Dibble created the sculpture about 10 years ago, and had promised it to the city. Now was the right time to have it installed, just before an expected influx of international visitors for the Rugby World Cup matches in the next fortnight.

"It's a bit dramatic to say it's a parting gift, but it probably is the last public piece I'll do for Palmerston North," said Dibble, who plans to move to Auckland next year, to set up a new studio.

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He's shifting to be closer to his family, to enjoy a warmer climate, and for the convenience factor with travel. He has major exhibitions planned for Auckland and Sydney next year.

"I'm not retiring, definitely not."

Dibble said he has always thought the huia should be part of the symbol for Palmerston North.

"It makes more sense than bloody windmills," he said. "It was a lovely bird. There's a statement here about if you want things of beauty, you have to be prepared to look after them."

The extinct huia was a large native bird, with bright red-orange wattles at the base of its beak. Its tail feathers had a broad white band and were highly prized by Maori, with only people of high rank allowed to wear them.

The last confirmed sighting of a huia was in the Tararua Range in 1907; they were hunted out, their bush habitat was destroyed for farmland and introduced predators such as rats and stoats made a meal too many of them.

Te Manawa has a collection of stuffed huia, which Dibble viewed as he designed the Ghost sculpture.

Ghost of the Huia is a 2.5m sculpture of a female huia – females had bigger beaks than males – in bronze, perched on a ring of Corten steel. The steel ring has a light patina of rust, which will slowly deepen as the steel weathers.

It was always difficult to estimate sale prices for art but Dibble said his Auckland dealer would probably price it at between $85,000 and $90,000.

Palmerston North project manager Doug Smith oversaw the installation in The Square and picked up all the costs involved. No public money has been spent.

Mr Smith has installed all the city's public works for the Palmerston North Sculpture Trust.

Manawatu Standard